WINDHAM, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — The number of boating deaths in Maine waters has nearly doubled this year. So far, game wardens have reported 11 deaths on inland waters compared to six in all of 2016.
In 2015, there was just one boating fatality.
Safety officials say many accidents on the water are caused by things that could have been prevented.
"When it comes to paddling, I think safety is, of course, the top priority," said expert kayaker Kimberlee Bennett.
"A little bit of prevention can save a water tragedy from happening later on," said businessowner Bill Allen, "so just be prepared, be aware of the weather conditions, be aware of the water conditions."
Allen owns Sebago Trails Paddling in Windham and saud tragedy can be pinned directly to a lack of awareness, preparation and the wrong equipment.
"[My rental company] always recommend[s] that people wear their life jacket because the time you need a life jacket is not the time to be looking for one," Allen said.
Allen recalled one near tragedy.
"We had a gentleman on a paddle meet up that managed to turn over his kayak. Plenty of people around to help him — in fact, the rescue went textbook perfect. I wish we had a video of it, it was that well done," he said. "But the life jacket he had was a really, really cheap one and it just came up over his head and wasn’t providing much protection for him."
Life jackets are critical to survival. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) reports nearly 75 percent of those who die in paddlesport related accidents were not wearing a lifejacket.
"The Presumpscot is broken into several different sections by various dams and it creates just beautiful places to paddle," said guide Kimberlee Bennett.
She and Sandy Moore were our guides down the Presumpscot River in Gorham. Prior to boarding out kayaks and canoe, they supplied us with snugly fitting, comfortable life jackets. They’re expert kayakers who’ve co-authored a book on paddling southern Maine.
Bennett explained the importance of paying attention to safety, the elements and everything that is going on as our paddles sliced effortlessly through the placid Presumpscot.
"It’s not just about having a kayak, a paddle and a lifejacket. You really have to consider the weather as well," Bennett said. "There will be people who would say, 'This is the perfect day to be out on the water,' and may plan to take a trip that’s going to take them all day to do, but as we know in the afternoon oftentimes thunderstorms roll in and you could find yourself in a really bad position."
And if that happens, this is important: USCG-endorsed orange identification stickers adhered to a boat. Moore calls them critical in case of emergency.
"It’s an important little sticker," she said. "It saves everyone a lot of time and worry and aggravation, and if something has happened and you need to be located that’s a pretty important thing to have."
Bennett showed us something she wears every time she is out on the water. It's a chain with a red-backed identification shield that looks similar to a dog tag. On it is a list of all of her medications and her allergies. She said if she’s in a boat, falls overboard and hits her head, the necklace could help rescuers save her life.
In addition to having a properly fitting life jacket and equipment, it is important to know what you don't know.
And that means: know your limits.
Anyone can take an on-water course — whether it's a safety or skill development course, the American Canoeing Association and USCG offer courses and information to help you become a strong paddler.
For more information on the book "Paddling Southern Maine," or to read a kayaking blog post authored by Bennett, go to www.kayakinginmaine.blogspot.com.
Also, to learn more about USCG courses, go to www.uscgboating.org.
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